Derry woman Melissa Mensah donates kidney to husband after ‘unbelievable’ match
When Terry Mensah tells his wife, Melissa: ‘You complete me,’ he means it in every way possible.
On December 16 last, Melissa, who is from Galliagh and now lives in Liverpool, donated her kidney to her husband, who had been unwell for some time.
While the gift of a kidney donation is, in itself, something of a miracle, it is somewhat more so for Melissa and Terry.
Not only are they unrelated, they are also from different countries and ethnic origins, meaning the chance of Melissa being a donation match for Terry was ‘very, very low’ and ‘like a lottery.’
But, much to their surprise, after numerous tests, the ‘soulmates’ were informed Melissa was a match, which Terry said ‘shows we were meant to be together.’
Melissa and Terry met in university and have one son, Mason (11), a younger sibling to Terry’s son Reece. Terry initially became unwell after finishing university and was diagnosed with kidney failure, something he described as a ‘really big shock.’ He was placed on dialysis and received a kidney donation from his brother in 2005.
Terry, who works for The Very Group, fell unwell again in early 2018 and it soon became clear that another transplant was needed. He again, began dialysis, this time at home for over three hours per day, five days a week. Melissa decided she wanted to get tested to see if she could donate a kidney. Terry was initially reluctant, but both thought the chances of Melissa being a match were very low. Many siblings aren’t even matches. However, after months of testing - ‘I got a free MOT on the NHS,’ quipped Melissa, they were delighted to be informed she was. After a few delays due to Terry’s ill health, the donation took place in December, with the kidney ‘taking straight away.’
The couple are both recovering at home and are ‘very grateful’ for the chance they have received.
Terry said that, while it has been tough, his time on dialysis has made him appreciate just who and what he has.
He observed: “Some people think dialysis puts all this pressure on a family and it does. But, in reality, it was one of the best times of my life. I know that seems strange but that time has put a lot of things into perspective - such as how much Melissa and my family mean to me, and the importance of all her help. We had to spend a lot of time together, as a family and it also made me realise just how resilient I am.”
He continued: “Some people do not have the opportunity of dialysis to keep them going, so while everything was really tough, in the end I was appreciative of dialysis.”
Terry told how, when Melissa first mentioned donating her kidney, he was unsure.
“It sounds strange to think that you’re unsure about something that would make you better and I know everyone says they’d donate a kidney to their partner. But there are a lot of things to consider. We have a son- both of us were going under the knife. We had to think of all that too.”
Terry said he ‘didn’t think Melissa was going to be a match.’
“With my African background and her being Irish - siblings sometimes aren’t a match, so it’s very rare. It was unbelievable to be told she was. We had a lot of hurdles and jumps to get through, but we sailed through them together. All of this, really, shows we are soulmates and we’re meant to be together.”
Melissa, a residential support worker for teenage parents, agreed: “We’ve been through some really hard things, but we faced them together, as a team. This actually brought us closer and made us stronger, because we had to be.” She added: “To be a match, it was literally just like a lottery.”
The couple were due to have surgery on a number of occasions, but these were delayed due to Terry’s ill health, which also meant he couldn’t be placed on the transplant list. But, it was all given the go-ahead for December, something they were delighted about as they wanted to be ‘dialysis-free’ before Christmas. They were admitted to the Liverpool Royal Hospital the day before and were both on the same ward, which Melissa described as ‘amazing.’ Melissa said she ‘wasn’t nervous’ going to surgery and ‘felt like it was the light at the end of the tunnel for our family.’
Terry told how, while he is ‘not a worrier,’ he did worry about Melissa and ‘said some prayers,’ when she went down for surgery. When he knew she was ok, he then ‘started to worry about myself.’
But, thankfully his recovery has been ‘unbelievably quick.’
Melissa laughed as she recalled how the surgeon visited her after the operation and told her how ‘it really was a lovely kidney.’
Melissa’s recovery has been a bit slower, something Terry explained was common.
“For me, because I wasn’t feeling well, any pain was counter balanced. It’s more difficult to take a kidney out.”
Terry felt the new benefits of his kidney almost immediately.
“My blood was also low before. When I came out, my brain felt razor sharp, like I was coming out of a fog. I feel great, although I do get tired.”
Melissa is also tired and has some pain, but is grateful for the support of both her and Terry’s families.
The couple is recovering together at home and are also grateful for each other and how they’ve got through the last couple of years.
Terry told how he penned a letter to the ‘Old Terry’ and spoke about how he now wants to appreciate and enjoy life, raise awareness about kidney donation and ‘just take nothing for granted.’
He also wrote a letter to Melissa, thanking her for what she had done.
“People say: ‘You complete me,’ and there’s the sentiment behind that, but she really does. I also feel a responsibility to look after the kidney.”
Melissa said she was ‘so happy’ to be able to donate to Terry and give ‘the gift of life at Christmas.’ “We went into hospital with smiles on our faces and came out with smiles on our faces.”
Even if Melissa had not been a match, she was going to go into a ‘pool’ of people, where, if someone is a match for one person, they donate and vice versa. Melissa said the family is looking forward to ‘getting some normality now.’ Terry gave some advice to those who may be facing dialysis for the first time. “My message to anyone going though it is that it’s good to talk to people. It is tough but dialysis is giving you a chance to live.” Melissa said the experience made her ‘look at what we have, rather than what we have not.’
Terry agreed: “You go through life taking so many things for granted.”